Why vote?

In the first of two posts on why we should vote, and how to go about it, Jenny Muir argues that one person alone may not be able to make history, but a community can. So read this, then make sure you REGISTER by 14 February!

Be sure you are registered by Tuesday 14 February!

In this unexpected Assembly election it’s proving harder than ever to persuade voters to go to the polls. Voter apathy is not new, but, as noted previously,  it’s worrying to see a constant decline over the years: from 70 per cent turnout in 1998, the first Assembly elections, to 54 per cent in May 2016. Even in the EU Referendum, with a turnout of 72 per cent across the UK, in Northern Ireland only 63 per cent of us bothered to vote. All a far cry from the 81 per cent who turned out for the referendum on the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement.

Those of us who have canvassed know the voters are fed up. They feel powerless and lack trust in politicians. People ask: how can one vote make a difference?

And the truth is, one vote almost always doesn’t. But the aggregate of votes does, and that’s what those of us who work in elections see and most people don’t – and find hard to believe. The wonderful Love NI Vote NI helps us by providing the figures from the last Assembly election in May 2016: 540,018 people gave a first preference vote to the DUP, Sinn Féin, the UUP or the SDLP. But 577,851 did not come out to vote – more than the number who voted for the ‘big four’ parties!

It’s also untrue that change never happens. The DUP and Sinn Féin have not always been our largest two parties. Alliance have substantially consolidated their vote in East Belfast since 2007. South Belfast’s Green vote has risen steadily over the same period, resulting in the election of Clare Bailey last year.  People Before Profit probably surprised themselves at topping the West Belfast poll at the same election with around 40 per cent more votes than their nearest rival. A vote for a smaller party is by no means a wasted vote.

Voting is the perfect example of how one person can’t make history but a community can.

Finally, it’s important to understand the voting system to make the best use of your vote – so we’ll set that out in our next post!

Jenny Muir

13 February 2017